Feature Writer John Christie – First Known Blind Fencing Competition Is A Success

In the final moments of the fencing match, the young men in white shouted “Tyler” as they sat in folding chairs at the Carroll Centre For The Blind in Newton, MA. The object of their cheers, Tyler Terrasi, seemed nervous as he pulled on his black mask. He picked up his weapon, a slender metal foil. Collier Sims, his opponent, stood tall and was ready to duel. The cheers quieted. The referee then signaled the match to begin. 

All that you could hear in the air was metal sliding against metal. Sims’ foil made contact twice with the white protective jacket covering Terrasi’s torso. The slender blade then hit Terrasi a third time in the chest as it arched. “Halt,” Shouted the referee, fencing Coach Cesar Morales.

With that, the first known blind fencing competition between the Carroll Centre for the Blind and The Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown was history.  Sims, 24, from the Carroll Centre for the Blind in Newton was the winner. Terrasi, a 20-year-old student from The Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, MA won the second-place trophy.

“A lot of the fencing actions that we do, we can apply them to everyday life,” Morales said. “When they are going to cross the street, the goal is to get to the other side. When they fence, the goal is to advance and to hit the other person.”

Sims came from the Carroll Centre from her Oklahoma City home in January after a brain injury caused her to lose most of her vision three years ago. To make the competition fair, Sims and other Carroll students who had some vision put on blindfolds before putting on their masks. “Adding the mask was particularly daunting,” Sims stated. “I think it’s difficult at first,” she said. “Just the memorization of it all is pretty difficult.”

The fencing competition was the brainchild of Morales, who has taught fencing at Carroll for three years and who has just started teaching fencing at Perkins this year. The rules were slightly modified for the event.

Before the blind fencers begin a fencing match, they orient themselves to their opponent, having their foils touch each other. This helps them figure out the position of their opponent. Any contact with the opponents upper body is counted as a point. An opponent’s arms are not considered as a point.

The Carroll Centre has been teaching fencing since 1954 when Thomas J. Carroll founded the first rehabilitation program for the newly blind. Perkins is new to the sport.

“We use it to develop orientation skills for people who just lost their vision,” said Rabih Dow, Carroll’s director of rehabilitation services and international training.

Carroll Clients are born with vision but who later lose their sight. This gives them an advantage because they can walk in a straight line and they can advance on their opponent more effectively.

Morales states that the techniques that are used for fencing can also help his blind students get around more effectively. They can use their foil to give them information and to help them find out where their opponent is. Learning how to advance with their weapon assists them with orienting their body. “In fencing, everything is done with the point of the weapon,” he said.

Morales, who came from Cuba in 1995, runs his own studio at Pine Manor in Chestnut Hill, a part of Newton. He was also head coach at The Boston Fencing Club.

On March 29, Terrasi was happy to place second. He said that he couldn’t react quickly enough to Sims’ advances.

Cory Kadlik, 19, is a Perkins student has only fenced at Perkins for ten weeks. However, he loves the sport and hopes to continue practicing. The biggest problem for him is that he has trouble advancing directly toward his opponent. “I’m still not straight,” he said. “I pull to the left.”

Kadlik thinks that fencing shows such promise that he hopes other teams will form in light of the Perkins-Carroll competition.

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